“People just go from one Inn to the other,” a New York stylist observed, referring to the crowd zigzagging between The Waverly Inn and The Beatrice Inn. It was late 2006 and the two Inns, newly restored, the former a restaurant, the latter a lounge, were about to shape New York nightlife.
Graydon Carter—editor of Vanity Fair, movie producer, and organizer of the world’s most coveted Oscar party—had just put the Waverly Inn, a West Village dying legend from the 1920s, back on the map by doing what he does best: mixing people. Much like his Vanity Fair party invites—thorough curated for an ideal blend of old and new Hollywood, of actors and controversial personalities — the seating arrangements at the Waverly Inn were overseen by Graydon himself.
“Just the right amount of bad,” Emil Varda, the Waverly manager, told me jokingly in 2007 as he ushered me into the restaurant’s paganistic glow. Candle-like lights reflected on fruit-red banquettes. An orange-leaf mural depicted caricatures of bohemians-turned-household-names: Dylan, Pollock, Kerouac, all sketched in their signature unhealthy-but-saintly activities, mixing drinking with writing, smoking, and drawing.
The waiters (at a moment’s notice) could recite random legends about the poetry, artists, and New York literatti who found harbor at the Inn. At the central banquettes, the floor’s tier-one real estate, tall waiters—all men—attended editors, writers, and designers in cashmere hoodies. They dined on pie-and-mash dishes as if they were in their own homes, scolding their children for playing with their gadgets or food.
Patrons at the periphery didn’t gawk but weren’t oblivious either. They acknowledged “central stage” through semi-contemptuous grins. New York University grad students might have dined a couple of tables from the mayor of New York, but Graydon made sure everybody knew his or her place. There was mixing, not mingling. There was order.
Two hours later, the same crowd, give or take, made its way down the street to the Beatrice Inn, an old Italian joint that entrepreneur and DJ Paul Sevigny (brother of Chloe) turned into a chaotic dancing-lounge. The first time I walked down the club’s steps, I sensed a spooky vibration. Twenty-year-olds smoked on the laps of 50-year-olds sitting on worn sofas under petit bourgeois landscape paintings that looked as if they’d been rotting there since a cold war evacuation.
Seconds into that parlor, I knew something that I wasn’t suppose to experience would happen in that ridiculously low-ceilinged basement. It did. I started making out with anyone for party favors, either right there inside the club or during 4am gatherings at my place around the corner.
Dance floor debauchery
Love it or hate it, New York hadn’t seen such dance floor debauchery since Studio 54. Hustlers mingled with royals, bankers hooked up with hipsters, and DJs could do anything. Tennis players and Vanity Fair clans went to the bunker to watch kids act out, not the other way around.
And then recession hit. Lots of us with white-collar jobs skipped the Waverly and went straight to the Beatrice. A different acting out took over: “Fuck 46 Wall. The ship’s going down anyway.” Yelling and puking outside the club helped the city shut it down in 2009.
Now, in 2012, with Beatrice added as an upscale chophouse in Graydon’s portfolio of restaurants, once again order triumphed over chaos in lower Manhattan. The new Beatrice follows Graydon’s formula, a proven one. There are tier-one tables, of course. Though, unlike sister Waverly, they are democratically split away from each other at the main room’s four corners. There is a beautiful “Siberia,” a stunning back room where Cuba meets Versailles and, as in all Graydon restaurants, food is described in “Amish chicken” and “iron cast” terms*.
But most interestingly, co-owners Emil Varda and movie-star-beautiful Brett Rasinski, both regulars at the old Beatrice, try to “keep the spirit, but not the ghosts of the bunker”. To some extent. I smiled at the Friends & Family evening when I ran into familiar faces from the good old days. I laughed when one of them ordered a Shirley Temple. I was in bed by midnight.
*With a touch of uptown: Former Per Se sous chef, Brian Nasworthy, is running the kitchen
All photos: Patrick McMullan